Your Friendly Guide to Transforming Your Grass Yard into a Drought-Tolerant Oasis

Hey there, sustainable friends! If you’re here, then you’re likely ready to make a stunning change that will make Mother Earth proud. Say goodbye to your thirsty grass yard and get ready to embrace the beauty and sustainability of drought-tolerant landscaping. We ditched our grass yards about 3 years ago and it was the best decision ever. I love escaping to our front yard to enjoy our garden – I love seeing butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bunnies, birds and so much other wildlife flocking to our yard and I know we’re helping mother earth in the process! Our front yard survived the extreme drought in 2022 and thrived in the wettest winter in 2023! Prior to planting, I did a ton of research to ensure it was a healthy mix of California native plants and drought tolerant plants. The top priorities for me were plants that bloomed or at least stayed green all year and required the least amount of water. With that said, let’s explore California native gardening and chat about effortlessly transitioning your outdoor space into a low-water paradise.

Unveiling the Magic of Drought Tolerant Gardening:

Imagine a garden that adapts to the California climate while contributing to the diverse ecosystem of birds, insects and other critters. Drought tolerant gardening is the secret ingredient to achieving this ethereal connection. By using plants indigenous to the region and introducing drought tolerant plants, you’ll create a landscape that not only looks breathtaking but also saves water and supports local ecosystems. It’s like a wellness retreat for your yard!

For our front yard, we planted the following mix of California native and drought tolerant plants. As I mentioned above, I wanted a mix of plants that bloom and stay green all year and require very little water. This is the mix I came up with for the front yard. The back yard is still in the works and I will share details later this year. Keep scrolling for a complete list of California Native drought tolerant plants!

A few of you were surprised to learn that our roses are drought tolerant! They’re called iceberg because they’re everywhere because of their durability. I wanted them in our garden because they bloom all year, require little water and grow quickly. Red Valerian is a great option if you want something that spreads quickly. You’ll see it popping up new shoots in the first year. If you don’t want it to get out of control, just pull out some of the new shoots to control how it grows. Sage is beautiful and you’ll see all of the various hummingbirds that are attracted to it – these get pretty big so you can plan to plant them about 5-6 feet apart and see them fill in quickly. I love layering in all parts of life, including my garden, so I added creeping thyme to add some visual interest and ground cover. To fill in some empty spots in the garden, I add some poppy seeds for more color and visual delight.

drought tolerant california native garden and landscaping

While not all of these plants are considered native to California, they are still well-suited for California gardens due to their ability to tolerate drought and adapt to the climate. Incorporating native plants alongside these drought tolerant species creates a diverse and visually appealing landscape while supporting local ecosystems.

Tip: Before starting from scratch, take stock of your existing garden. Are there any plants that can be transplanted to new areas? Can you repurpose materials like pots, containers, or garden structures? By making the most of what you already have, you reduce unnecessary waste and save money. 

Capturing the Essence of Your Yard:

Understanding your outdoor space’s unique character will help you design a landscape that is both praticial and beautiful. 

drought tolerant california native garden and landscaping

Designing Your Drought-Tolerant Paradise:

a. Unleash Your Vision: What’s your dream landscape style? Picture a modern oasis or a Mediterranean haven—it’s your call! By clarifying your aesthetic goals, you can curate the perfect plant palette and layout to bring your vision to life. Here’s a link to my Pinterest board with tons of inspo!

b. Falling in Love with Native Plants: Native plants boast low water requirements, minimal maintenance needs, and a penchant for attracting delightful wildlife. Select a diverse range of these local beauties, grouping them based on their water preferences for maximum efficiency.

Tip: Propagate and Share: Propagation is an eco-friendly way to expand your garden while minimizing costs. Learn about different propagation techniques such as stem cuttings, division, or seed-saving. Propagate plants from your existing garden or exchange cuttings with fellow gardeners. All of our fruit trees are propagated by my mom from trees in her garden. Our pomegranate tree is 3rd generation and came from a tree that was in my grandfather’s yard! While citrus and pomegranate trees are not considered drought tolerant, I think it’s important to note that we eat all the fruits and vegetables we grow in our garden so we’re farming and feeding ourselves (this is most sustainable option!).

c. Embrace Some Hardscape Glamour: Hardscape elements can elevate your landscape. Add pathways that invite a leisurely stroll, seating areas for intimate conversations, and rocks for a touch of natural elegance. Let sustainable materials, like permeable pavers, keep the water flowing and avoid any awkward runoff situations. I don’t recommend going overboard with hardscape as it can actually lead to increasing the surface temperature of your yard! Our pea gravel is under the overhang of the 2nd story and creates a shady area for us to hang out. I also set up Violet’s play toys here so it’s a safe, shady space for her to spend time. 

d. Creating Harmony in Diversity: Mix it up by combining groundcovers, shrubs, grasses, and trees in perfect harmony. Not only will this create visual interest, but it will also attract a delightful ensemble of beneficial insects and birds.

Soil Prep and Water Wisdom:

a. Soil, Baby, Soil: Let’s give your soil some love. Test it and pamper it with organic amendments like compost to ensure excellent drainage and nutrient availability. Your plants will thank you for the VIP treatment! Here’s a guide to composting if you’re looking to get started.

b. Water with Panache: Upgrade your irrigation game with efficient systems like drip irrigation or low-flow sprinklers. Grouping plants based on their water needs allows for customized watering schedules fit for a diva. Hello, efficiency!

Maintenance Made Glamorous:

a. Mulch Like a Star: Mulch is the red carpet for your plants! Apply a generous layer to keep pesky weeds at bay, conserve moisture, and keep the soil temperature just right. Opt for organic mulch materials like wood chips or straw—sustainable and chic!

Tip: Explore Buy Nothing Groups and Free Clippings: Online communities, like Buy Nothing groups or local gardening forums, can be treasure troves of free plant clippings, seeds, compost starter, mulch, and even gardening tools. Join these groups, connect with fellow gardeners, and see if anyone has extra plants or cuttings to share. 

b. Love and TLC: Drought-tolerant landscapes are low-maintenance, but a little attention goes a long way. Prune your plants when needed, keep an eye on irrigation efficiency, and promptly bid adieu to any weeds or invasive species that intrude upon your fabulous domain.

It’s really easy to get discouraged after you spend a lot of money and then plant your new garden because there will be a ton of empty space. Don’t worry as many California native plants grow quickly and spread in just 1 year. This is what our garden looked like in March 2022!

Even More Drought Tolerant Plants

If you’re interested in other options for your yard, consider some of these other plants that are drought tolerant and stay green and bloom:

California Lilac (Ceanothus): California Lilac is a versatile evergreen shrub with vibrant blue, purple, or white flowers that bloom in spring. It thrives in well-drained soil and prefers minimal water once established.

Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri): Matilija Poppy is an impressive perennial with large, white flowers resembling fried eggs. It loves full sun and well-drained soil, and once established, it requires minimal water.

California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum): California Fuchsia is a showy perennial with bright red, tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds. It prefers well-drained soil and thrives with little to no supplemental water once established.

Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium spp.): Blue-Eyed Grass is a charming perennial with small blue or purple flowers that resemble miniature irises. It adapts well to dry conditions and requires occasional watering during prolonged dry spells.

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata): Desert Marigold is a hardy perennial with bright yellow flowers that bloom throughout the year in mild climates. It thrives in well-drained soil and can tolerate drought conditions once established.

Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa): Mexican Evening Primrose is a low-maintenance perennial with delicate pink or white flowers that open in the evening. It prefers well-drained soil and is highly drought-tolerant.

Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii): Cleveland Sage is an aromatic shrub with gray-green foliage and lovely lavender-blue flowers. It thrives in full sun, well-drained soil, and requires minimal water once established.

Desert Mariposa Lily (Calochortus kennedyi): Desert Mariposa Lily is a striking bulbous perennial with beautiful pink, purple, or white flowers. It prefers sandy, well-drained soil and requires little water once established.

Agave (Agave): Agaves are succulent plants that come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with many species staying green year-round. They are highly drought-tolerant and require minimal water once established.

Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora): Red Yucca is an architectural perennial with tall spikes of coral-red flowers that attract hummingbirds. It thrives in well-drained soil and is highly drought-tolerant once established.

These plants thrive in full sun exposure and require minimal water once they have established their root systems. However, it’s important to note that while these plants are drought-tolerant, they may still benefit from occasional deep watering during extended periods of drought to ensure their health and vitality!

Gardening Essentials

If you’re looking to get started, you’ll need a few gardening essentials to help you on your way.

  1. Hand Trowel: A hand trowel allows you to dig, transplant, and weed with ease. It’s perfect for planting small flowers, herbs, or vegetables in containers or beds.
  2. Pruning Shears: Pruning shears are essential for maintaining the health and shape of your plants. They are ideal for trimming small branches, deadheading flowers, and cutting back overgrown foliage.
  3. Garden Gloves: Protect your hands from thorns, sharp edges, and dirt with a pair of sturdy garden gloves. They provide grip, prevent blisters, and shield your skin from scratches or irritants while you work. I love these (because I like to be dripping in Chanel when gardening)
  4. Watering Can or Hose: A watering can or hose is indispensable for keeping your plants hydrated. Choose a watering can with a detachable nozzle or a hose with an adjustable spray head to control the water flow and ensure gentle watering.
  5. Garden Kneeler or Knee Pads: Gardening often involves kneeling or working close to the ground, which can strain your knees and back (trust me I learned the hard way). Invest in a comfortable garden kneeler or knee pads to provide cushioning and support while you tend to your plants.

By embracing California native gardening and channeling your inner gardener, you’ll create an outdoor sanctuary that not only dazzles the eyes but also honors our planet. So, grab your gardening gloves, embrace the beauty of drought-tolerant plants, and let your yard radiate with eco-chic allure. Get ready to bask in the glow of a lush, water-wise landscape. You’ve got this, babe!

Thank you for reading.

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